Running a small business can sometimes feel like a whirlwind of payroll, invoicing, and bookkeeping. But as well as all your financial responsibilities, you need to get out there and market your business. In today’s world of memes and Snapchat, entering the world of digital marketing can feel daunting — but small business digital marketing doesn’t have to be scary or complicated. At the end of the day, it all comes down to knowing your audience, and focusing on a few key tactics and platforms that are going to move the needle for your business. Everyone who has a website needs search engine optimisation (SEO), and everyone who wants to make the most of their online presence needs digital marketing. Here’s how you can take control and implement a coherent digital strategy for your business — with or without help!
Get to know your digital audience
It’s important that you understand your online audience; audience research plays a big part in building a picture of how you need to please your ideal customer online. You need to get very good at hitting the right note with your online content (web copy, blogs, social posts etc) — audience knowledge is power.
1. Audience research starts with looking at who you are already engaging with. Have a look at the demographic of the people who generally visit your website (easily found in Google Analytics), or the kind of people who like your business Facebook page (accessible via Facebook Insights). Reading online reviews can also give you a good idea of who you’re reaching. Collating this data will help you figure out who is finding your business online, and why.
2. Start building a picture of your ideal (or typical) customer and their online habits. Do they own an iPad? Are they going to be using social media at lunch time? Do they want to read online articles or newspapers? You may find that you aren’t really engaging with your ideal audience yet — digital marketing can help you solve that.
3. This fact-finding mission will help you create content buyer personas. A buyer persona is essentially a ‘fake’ person your business uses to clarify what sort of content it should be creating based on audience habits, interests, and behaviours. It may seem odd at first, but constantly bringing your thoughts back to your buyer persona can stop your business from writing blog posts that no one wants to read, or tweets that receive 100% engagement.
Unlike advertising and some more traditional forms of marketing, online marketing is largely led by your audience and their needs. Rather than focusing on how to best present yourself, think about how you can be more present for your audience.
What metrics do I need to track?
Just like with anything in your business, you need to track things to make sure budgets are being well spent. There is a lot of data in digital, but you need to decide what information is a priority for your business. Follow the rule of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid): start with where you are right now, set some targets, and track progress.
1. Find your current baseline and use it as a benchmark to see how things improve. If you want to keep things simple, start with things like the number of monthly visitors to your site, or your number of LinkedIn followers.
2. Analysis paralysis can often hit busy business owners, so don’t invest in loads of fancy data tools that are only going to get you tangled up in knots. Free tools like Google Analytics and the information provided by social media channels are a good place to start in digital. More custom solutions are available, but they need to be integrated with how you work.
3. Try to tie things back to sales, leads, and ROI as much as you can. What are your digital activities ultimately achieving? It’s OK to spend time communicating your brand and socialising to an extent, but don’t let that take too much time away from money-making activities. A tool like Buffer or Tweetdeck can help you save much-needed time on social media.
4. On the other hand, digital marketing needs a certain amount of agility, and if you are constantly obsessing over ROI you may not get a lot done. The more you put in, the more you get out, so just start getting out there and sharing on Facebook more.
Choosing your platforms and tactics
Where do I start?
With so many different places to be, it’s important to consider what activities are going to be the best at moving the needle for you. When it comes to defining your own digital marketing strategy (the why), make sure that you balance the platforms (the where) with the tactics (the what).
A hairdresser might not need to post often on LinkedIn, but a B2B company selling headshots would need to be very active on LinkedIn and Publisher — it’s all about context in digital, so don’t feel the need to invest in all the latest technologies if they’re not right for you. (Digital Garage is a free digital marketing training course that can help open up some new doors for you).
Other than your website, here are a few places where you might want to be visible:
1. General & trade directories
2. Local online newspapers
3. Online blogs
4. Online video sites
5. Social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn being the big ones)
6. Showcase/industry sites (some of these also have content communities where you can contribute articles and commentary).
Start creating records about where you want to be seen, and why. Balance effectiveness and visibility with feasibility. Yes, it would be great if you could post a daily video on YouTube, but as a busy accountant that probably won’t be possible.
When it comes to tactics, think about what’s going to get you business and new customers? What sort of content do you need to create in order to encourage people to sign up for your services, or what sorts of social media posts will highlight a need for your product? It can be tempting to spend a lot of time on Facebook, feeling like you are making a difference — but is the work you’re doing actually productive?
Think about whether online writing, design, or video is something you can realistically do in-house, or whether you need to completely outsource your digital activities to an agency or freelancer. (Worried about costs? Do your marketing in-house first, and read up on some other ways to cut costs as a new business). Even if you hire a digital agency — they won’t be able to do EVERYTHING for you, so manage your expectations accordingly.
Basics of SEO & digital marketing
Search engine optimisation scares some people as it sounds very technical, but over the years it has actually become ever-close to traditional marketing activities like PR. In its most primitive form, SEO is about having a good website that people find interesting and engaging, and taking care of a few technical bits in the background. (Most modern websites make dealing with these technical elements relatively straightforward).
If you do one thing for your brand’s SEO, do this — create unique content. Think long and hard about what you write — you may want to start with keyword research for some ideas. Keyword research for small businesses is something that you can easily do yourself — a lot of the tools are free, and it’s great to see what people are actually searching for.
Another important part of SEO and digital marketing is getting links, mentions, and shares of your web content and social profiles. You can achieve this by using some PR methods like distributing press releases, but you might also look into working with bloggers. Another simple method to spread your content is to simply ask people to raise awareness and share and pass stuff on.
Embracing online sales
Why not make the most of your online presence and incorporate it into your sales pipeline? Online sales can be a small business lifeline during less busy periods. Whether you start to actually accept sales online or not, you can use online content and customer service chat to drive traditional business development activities like meetings and phone calls.
1. Inbound marketing will change the way that you see sales and content — it’s a methodology that’s very focused on making your customers aware of a need for your services or products through content that ups the ante in degrees. You might start by identifying a customer problem, and slowly introducing the reasons why your offering is the solution.
2. Secure payments are must-have for anyone selling products or services online. It’s worth investing in an online store with secure shopping cart, rather than running the risk of having issues due to DIY methods. Another great place to start is to sell on secure marketplaces like Amazon or Etsy, where you will have immediate access to a huge customer base.
3. Selling on social media has changed the way that many people see commercial transactions, which can now simply happen at the end of a good conversation. See whether the trend for conversational commerce is something you need to introduce to your sales pipeline too — being too formal may put you at an disadvantage online.
Embracing digital marketing means taking the time to define your digital strategy. With a strategy in place, you can start to use some of the digital tactics yourself, without the need or recourse for an agency. Businesses often underestimate the importance of structure and planning when it comes to digital marketing — it’s a lot more than just sending a few tweets here and there! What’s the biggest thing that’s holding you back online right now?
Written by Gareth Simpson – SEO and Startup Founder
Gareth is a seasoned SEO with over a decade of experience in digital. Based in Bristol, Gareth works hard on blogger outreach campaigns and content marketing with a green tea in hand.